Monday, September 26, 2011

The Veda Rays Densely Dark, Beautiful

Earlier this year, Jim Stark (vocals, guitar) of the primal post-punk experimental band The Veda Rays, summed up the state of the music industry as a return to "the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days" without any band needing to be propped up by the old guard of big labels and traditional media.

It was early in the morning. And Stark was ready to embark on another all-day mixing session at Dubway Studios in New York. A month or so prior, mostly from their remote Pennsylvania hideaway, the band had already tracked new songs, nine of which made their new LP, Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays, released under their own label, Alleged Records.

Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays is a haunting ensemble of post-punk arthouse rock. 

The band has every right to consider the album a make it or break it moment. Most of the new album is propelled along by four years of songwriting, playing gigs, and making 4-track recordings much like Stark and his bandmate Jason Gates a.k.a. Jason Marcucci (drums) had done since grade school. Much of it also carries with it what Stark describes as a turbulent odyssey of loss and heartbreak.

"One of my best friends died of an accidental overdose, another of my former bandmates was forced out by his family and sent halfway across the country to rehab, and Jason Gates' sister committed suicide after many years of battling psychological problems and substance abuse," Stark said. 

By the way, if Gates' other name sounds familiar, it should. He is a well-known engineer at Dubway Studios, having tracked and mixed artists like The White Stripes, Beck, and Story Of The Year, mostly for Live at VH1. It's astounding to hear on both sides of the work for The Veda Rays.

While most of the attention has been falling on the floating uneasiness of All Your Pretty Fates and the thumpingly hypnotic Honey Pot, Just Dust is one of the most compelling songs with ever-progessing builds. It even sounds great, or perhaps especially great, when it's cut against the confusion of Kenneth Anger's Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome.

The match up isn't accidental or random. Stark has a habit of dropping in nods, hidden meanings, and homages into some of his songs. He does it in the lyrics. He sometimes does it in his delivery. And he did it with the band's eclectic cinematic meanderings as placeholder music videos.

In every case, the films chosen underscore the dream-like wonderment of the music that has been driving the buzz in Brooklyn. Stark and company clearly have a knack for taking people to some strange and unexpected destinations. And maybe that's the point. The album doesn't take you for a ride; it takes you someplace vividly unforgettable.

Of course, Stark and Gates aren't the only ones to be commended. Tyson Reed Frawley, who came up with the band's name, adds some serious undertones with his bass. Relative newcomer Jimmy Jenkins (guitar) really helps round out the sound. He also plays keys and sings.

Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays is a complete journey. 

Every track on the album deserves to be well played as they drift and surge in and out of experimental, post-punk, and noise pop. Out On Love, Our Ford, and Long May She Roll are grounded in the uniquely pop-infused alternative rock arrangements and shaped by Stark's emotive tenor.

All in all, only Ellipsis misses, feeling too heavy under its own weight. And yet, even that song makes the perfect lead in for the cinematic Deleted, which begins like a ballad featuring guitar wizard Juan Montoya (formerly Torche).

It's not the first time Montoya has lent his skills to the Veda Rays. He also worked on two singles, one of which you can catch on the overtly dramatic Time Is A Vise, which also features singer Julee Cruise. The song does not appear on the album.

Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays Orbits 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Veda Rays are well on their way as an independent act to add to any watch list. While their upcoming touring schedule seems to be confined to the East Coast, we don't count them out for a bigger tour as more people discover something familiarly new here.

Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays by the Veda Rays is available on iTunes. Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays is also available on Amazon. Both online outlets include an acoustic version of All Your Pretty Fates, rounding the album out to 10 songs. The band is already working on their next, possibly an EP that will be ready in the months ahead.
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